Swantje Kutscher – Business Management – Level 2
St Edward’s University, USA
My Experience in Texas
Before leaving to the other chosen country or even inside the country before lessons start there is a lot to organize and understand about a country to be successful.
- 1. Visa
It took me, personally, 5 months to get my visa. The hardest thing was not needing to go to London to the Embassy for an interview, not filling out hundreds of forms nobody had ever heard of and also not to wait for each parties’ answer. The hardest aspect was finding, or creating, missing but mandatory information to even be able to be considered. The multiple jokes on the internet suggesting ridiculous papers to be required for a visa application are, in the end, not that far off.
- 2. Housing
As an exchange student I was required to live in student accommodation. When I chose my university to which one I will go on an exchange, the housing costs made an important aspect as it is most of the costs which cannot be avoided. I ended up in Teresa Hall which was the oldest, furthest away hall…
I did not regret this decision as my hall turned out much more social than the others and I made many friends who I will hopefully stay in contact with.
- 3. Flights
Flights are, like the housing, an unavoidable cost. I spend months, even the year before, to learn around which time flights are the most or least expensive. Many websites offer different prices and although Skyscanner is a Scottish app, I found out that most of their offers are simply not the cheapest. Kayak is my personal preferred app. This changed when I got to know students from America in Queen Margaret University who told me to book through Student universe due to there being a student discount. This was a great decision.
- 4. Orientation
What I really liked about St. Edward’s University is their system about how to integrate the exchange students and make them have a great time during their semester or semesters. In orientation we got an introduction and explanation about how our visa works, we had a pretended classroom to learn how to behave, we got to know peer mentors of our age who helped us and took us to places around Texas and many more useful things. The peer mentors are employed by the international office and are the people in the students age to talk to which is much nicer than having a superior who might not be trusted as much. Especially when it comes to question like local dating scene and underaged drinking.
About America, the USA, and especially Texas, there are many stereotypes existing. Being aware of these and knowing how to handle these to not offend anyone is very important.
- 1. Food
I bet you have heard of the expression Tex-Mex before. Texas-Mexican food. This is, amongst many other foods, describing Tacos, Burritos, Queso, …
Austin’s obsession with Tacos for example is undeniable. Breakfast tacos on every corner, food trucks with tacos, fast food places like “Torchy’s tacos” with tacos, fancy places with tacos, opening parties of a dentist serving tacos and many more are offered. Next to Mexican food there is also Texas BBQ.
If anybody has not tried that it should definitely be put on the bucket list. A small village called Lockhart is the birthplace of Texas BBQ and is about an hour away from Austin. Texas BBQ is an American version taken to America by the first settlers from Germany. This is normally single pieces of meat, without sauce if good, like sausages or briskets. There is many places who claim to be the best but after multiple Texas BBQ’s I can say that Kreuz Market in Lockhart is the best in my opinion. The meat is soft and you get tears in your eyes when cutting it because it is so satisfying.
The last kind of food I consider as special is Chicken and Waffles. This is a thick Belgian Waffle coming with fried chicken. This is insanely good (go to Diner 42).
- 2. Nature
Surprisingly, Austin is named the greenest city in the USA. It sounds weird, the greenest city in the USA being in Texas but if you ever see it, you can do nothing but agree. It is beautiful, offers many parks and is close to ranches up north.
There are still some deserts but the Texas nature has so much to offer. This month, in May, the snake time started. I have not seen a snake but many snake trails at my friend’s ranch. In Texas, there is not only a good number of nice plants as the bluebonnet flower which is Texas’ flower and is illegal to pick, but also, next to snakes, a great number of animals. As soon as you are not in the city anymore you hear all sorts of animals and see all sorts of animals, which is great and lets you see the planet and its beauty in a whole different way.
- 3. Southern Gentlemen
The expression Southern Gentleman describes the etiquette which is valued in the south of America. Politeness like men holding the door, pulling your chair, opening the car for you and paying for your meal is not extraordinary but the expected standard. My friend went to etiquette lesson when he was young, not only to learn how to treat women but, also, how to eat with the right cutlery etc.
- 4. Cowboys and Rodeos
One might think that people walking around with Cowboy boots, Western hat and a holster with a gun saying “Howdy partner” is an annoying stereotype – it is not.
I know many people who walk around in their Cowboy boots only as soon as leaving the city, too many people who say Howdy in fast food restaurants when ordering their tacos, too many people screaming Yee Haw out of excitement and too many guys having a gun on them at all times. I, myself, ended up buying a cheap Western hat for 120$.
Only because of the sun of course.
Concerning Rodeos, they are existing, including the fairground next door. Pole Riding, Bull Riding, Bull tackling and waving lassos around and catching things are a thing. Whether that should be supported due to violation of animal rights is debatable. It is not like in Spain where an animal is hurt. Only the Cowboys and Cowgirls sometimes. However, it was a great experience.
Keep Austin Weird
Keep Austin Weird is Austin’s Motto which can be found on T-Shirts and other Merchandise around the city. Austin is a thriving city and is compared to other cities in Texas a bit more diverse and multicultural.
- 1. Outdoor Activities
Austin has a lot to offer. You can do many things from watersports, to shooting range and many more things. The Colorado River offers many opportunities for kayaking, stand-up paddling and rowing for young people and families. The air and water is clear which gives locals a good environment to spend their time outside in.
- 2. Nightlife
Due to there being several colleges and universities in Austin there are a lot of young people. The main party places are on 6th street with clubs and Rainey street with many pubs and dancing and late-night food trucks. All places are over 21 only which made my other friends and exchange students quite disappointed on weekends as they could not join to anywhere. All places in Austin for party close at 2 am and on Rainey street the police go through the street and make it available for cars again as it is closed for partying individuals at night. One other street is South Congress with a few Dive bars and one bar directly opposite the university. It is not as famous but definitely worth going.
- 3. Festivals
Austin is a festival city. Many music festivals during the year and every season is considered a reason for the next one. One of the biggest one is SXSW in March. This is not only for art in music but also ted talks and businesses introducing themselves or professionals talking about their experiences. This is a great opportunity to network for young students especially in business like me. Tickets are quite expensive but free events are available. It can be compared to Fringe juts far bigger, more business and job oriented and from time to time famous personalities come down to Austin. It was a great experience if the long Uber drives are not considered.
St. Edward’s University
St. Edward’s is located south of downtown with about an hour walk into the city. This sounds quite much but it is a very nice walk and is not as bad as it sounds at all.
- 1. Christian School
St. Edward’s University is a Christian private school which sounds quite intimidating in the beginning and my classmates in Scotland were laughing and telling me that I will need to get up every Sunday to attend service. Well, this is not the case. There is no church related events unless it is your graduation. There is a church on campus sounding like Big Ben but I do not know people who consider this one as their church.
- 2. Roommate
When I applied for accommodation I realized that quite often, nearly every time, you had a roommate. This was weird but i wanted to live like the locals and not chose an expensive private room because of my European values so I chose to stay with a roommate and two suitemates with whom we shared the bathroom. I arrived on campus after touring around with the uber driver who had no idea either where to go. When I was shown my way to my room I realized many pink things already being in the room and very quickly a stereotype of a blond girl with pink clothes from Beverly Hills jumped into my head. I was surprised when a witty girl from Korea entered the room. We realized quickly that she liked the same food, the same music and the same movies which was great. Throughout the semester I got too used to having a roommate, never being alone and having a friend to talk to at all times. I really do not know what I will do without her.
- 3. Timetable
I chose my timetable very wisely before and only had two days of attendance in a week which meant that every weekend was 4 days long and I could explore America or hang with friends for a few nights. An opportunity other exchange student did not have and did not think about.
- 4. Exam System
The stereotype of American universities having an insanely low standard is somewhat true. In the beginning I was shocked that there was an exam and a few assignments and presentations every week but when I realized that every exam only takes under an hour to get the maximum number of points my motivation went down a lot. To score an A you need 90% which sounds hard in the beginning but to be honest, I can say that for the assignments I handed in here I would have been graded about 20%-30% for. Whether this system fits really depends on the person. I personally find my motivation in being challenged and I was not challenged enough here. I also like to talk back and utterly understand issues and critical question even the professor’s credibility. This mind-set is not the case here which makes it be the system for certain personalities who like to learn from others and are more interested in the practice rather than the understanding.
I can say that this city and the experiences here changed me a lot. I know far more what I want and saw more of the world and have a wider understanding. I learnt that I will not ever judge again about gun laws if I have not lived in that country. I learnt about opportunities and fell in love with an individual and the country and can imagine myself having a life here.
- 1. Near Future
I will travel through America in a week for 5 weeks to look at places and dream about the future. I need new life goals to increase my motivation. I will first go back to Queen Margaret University and finish my Bachelor in either 3 years or 4 years with the broader path or focused on Finance. I want to keep my options open in case I find a great opportunity in America so I can take it.
- 2. Far Future
I will keep on looking for opportunities in specifically Austin and also in Colorado. That one seems like a state which holds similar values to me. I do not know whether I want to stay focused in Finance. Life is so short and I want to live it in a way so that I have no regrets. I am so grateful for this experience funded by Santander and hope I can help other students to make similarly important experiences to me.